Bravo’s songwriting contest hits right notes
After the last round of “American Idol,’’ talent-show fans might be looking for something a little more acidic, to cut through all that sticky-sweetness. Amid almost neurotically persistent praise by judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, “Idol’’ became a bland love fest without a competitive vibe.
The latest TV music contest, “Platinum Hit,’’ is on Bravo, so you know it’s going to contain enough interpersonal tension to make poor Scotty McCreery kiss his cross like he did after meeting Lady Gaga. The show, premiering tonight at 10 with Jewel as host and judge and Kara DioGuardi as head judge, has all the contestant ego and judge criticism missing on “Idol’’ in its post-Simon Cowell era. By the end of the hour, you’ve seen a few big contestant power plays and heard one wannabe declare, “I am the leader of men,’’ while another tells us, “I am a musical genius, for sure.’’
Technically, “Platinum Hit’’ is about songwriting. The 12 contestants are not going to be judged on their performances so much as their ability to create songs. That’s a nice shift of emphasis from TV’s usual talent shows, and it lends “Platinum Hit’’ a bit of the focus on craft that gave “Project Runway’’ a few good seasons. The challenges break down the art of songwriting, and we get to watch the players struggle to write a hook, and then work to build verses around it and add musical accompaniment. The show anatomizes popular music, an art form that’s easy to take for granted when a song sounds successfully effortless.
I was a fan of DioGuardi during her two years on “Idol.’’ She seemed willing to dive into her criticisms of the performer, rather than just mutter a few pre-written witticisms or niceties. On “Platinum Hit,’’ she is similarly engaged in her job, as she sits on the panel with Jewel and a pair of guest judges. Jewel is a bit of a host-and-judge-bot, delivering her lines with a steely stiffness, but DioGuardi is usually worth listening to. If you’re not a fan of her and her intense eye contact, though, the show will probably be like fingernails on a chalkboard.
“Platinum Hit’’ has a few flaws. The casting is far too predictable. All the songwriters are pretty and, with one or two notable exceptions, pushy. In other words, typical Bravo players set loose to create melodrama for the cameras. There weren’t many cast members I felt eager to follow through the process, and none who surprised me, at least based on the premiere.
And the emphasis on hit-making robs us of watching some of the more difficult, emotional challenges that can come with songwriting. “I’ve got ADD,’’ guest judge Jermaine Dupri says to one of the contestants. “If you give me a record and it don’t catch me in the first two seconds, I’m on my BlackBerry and it’s out the window.’’ Sure, coming up with a catchy hook is a valuable talent. But it would also be interesting to see the judges pushing the competitors toward writing great songs built to last, not only songs built to make money.